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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 128-174(WS)-E
Division Number: VII
Professional Group: Library History in association with the Association of Jewish Libraries, Judaica Librarians Group, and Hebraica Libraries Group: Workshop - Session 4
Joint Meeting with:
Meeting Number: 174
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Judaica Collections/Libraries in the DC area

Ann S. Masnik
University of Maryland at College Park
Maryland, USA


In this session I intend to describe three Judaic collections in the Washington, D.C. area: the Hebraic section of the Library of Congress, the library of the Holocaust Museum as it pertains to Jewish people, and the Jewish Collection at the University of Maryland Libraries, College Park. These are all secular institutions, yet their holdings are substantial, and, in some cases unique, as I will try and show. From Thomas Jefferson's time, the Library of Congress acquired some rare Hebrew Bibles. One can almost trace American-Jewish history by its documents and books. The Holocaust Museum Library is a treasure-trove for genealogists of WWII and was very helpful in compiling my bibliography because the library contains the biographies of women who lived during the Holocaust period. The Judaic collection at Maryland contains enough material, through many donations and purchases, to be a good starting point for Jewish studies. The growing importance of Ethnic studies in the United States has helped to give rise to classes and research in Jewish studies at many American colleges and universities.


In this session I will describe three Judaic collections in the Washington DC area: The Hebraic section of LC, the library of the Holocaust Museum as it pertains to Jewish people, and the Judaic Collection at the Univ. of Maryland Libraries at College Park.

DC is a city that has libraries for every conceivable government agency and association, many special libraries: I could go on infinitum. I want to talk, today, about visiting DC libraries from a Judaic point of view. I recently revisited the Library of Congress, in preparation for this talk, and stopped to see the exhibit "Treasures from the LC collection." Among other treasures, were Jefferson's bibles including a rare Hebrew Bible. There are songs written by famous Jewish composers, one is "Long live the land of the free" written by two early American-Jewish composers, posters of Israeli elections, letters from significant Jewish citizens, for example, the manuscript of a letter to George Washington. In his reply to this early Jewish citizen, Washington reaffirms religious freedom in the new country.

Books and newspapers at LC that are in Hebrew, Yiddish or Ladino are in the Hebraic Section, which is part of the Middle Eastern Division in the original Jefferson Building. The Hebraic section receives government publications from Israel (from Israeli Ministries) through an agreement with the Israeli Government.

You may or may not know that everything published in the U.S. that is meant to be copyright is sent to LC for that purpose. This includes many Judaic items in English; requesting them in the Main Reading Room so that you can look at them. You have to obtain a special reader's card to look at books in LC. (see the web site on the bookmark LC is giving you, for instructions.)

One of the main collections in the Hebraic Section is the Yizkor or memorial books - used for genealogy and other research. LC has an important collection. LC's collection, of course, goes back much further than the Holocaust Museum Library-which has to catch up! More about Yizkor books, including what they are, when I talk about the Holocaust library.

LC's web site will tell you not only what books, journals recorded music files LC has but how to get the special reader's card and other instruction for reference and research. If you go to LC's site---you can get to the Hebraic section, or any other Section or Division, for that matter. You will either go the Hebraic Section Reading Room or to the Main Reading Room (Latter, if book is in English and therefore in General Collection, and request that item. The Library of Congress site will give, you quite a lot of necessary, preliminary information. You can go from LC's main site, to the African and Middle Eastern Division, and, from there to the Hebraic Section (easier then typing in its own URL directly.)

Holocaust Museum Library

On the top of the Holocaust Museum, there is a library. The entire museum is an architectural work of art in itself. But we shall focus on the library, which houses an amazing collection of biographies and information on the Holocaust period. The Library was developed to be of assistance to the museum staff: for their exhibits, architecture, etc. Since its establishment it has changed because though their primary concern is still the museum, they do have many other researchers (only library personnel can borrow material) and both researchers and others come to look, for example, for genealogical information or towns that have disappeared.

There are 30,000 volumes, in l8 different languages, including yizkor books-that were written as a memorial when a Jewish person died, especially for a town that may no longer exist or have the same name. There are l2 library staff members, among them 10FTEs and 6 with Masters. Even on weekends there are 2 reference librarians on duty. The archives, however, are only open Monday-Friday. Anyone CAN use the library-youngsters from about 12 and post-graduate students, and senior citizens (often looking for their own stories) use the library. I know of one Honors student at Md. who did a paper on her grandmother, a Jewish survivor and went there for information. I went there for help in compiling a bibliography on Jewish women. I found biographies and many about Jewish women: doctors, victims, survivors and many women who had been children and the time and were writing their memoirs.

Jewish Studies help to educate people and to understand some actions/reactions to the Holocaust. This is NOT a Judaic collection. In fact the title of this talk should be Judaic collections in secular in situations. Gay & Lesbian Issues, Emigration issues, and lately, disability issues are their purview as well. The museum pertains to the years l933-1945 which they call, "The Holocaust Years."

In so far as format is concerned, they have many different formats. Many videos which are published on the Holocaust period, periodicals, like their own " Genocide and Holocaust" journal, CDs- as for example, Maus, a marvelous cartoon story about the Holocaust. In the section of their web site they list some frequently asked questions. Often they are verification of quotations like the one by Martin Niemoller or how many Jewish people, gypsies, or Catholics died during that period. The online catalog is updated continuously and is, as is, like the collection, in 18 different languages. Volunteers, as well as library staff, translate many items, both in the library and the archives.

The Judaic Collection at the University of Maryland Libraries at College Park

An example of a Judaic collection at a secular American university, where I, in fact, work as the Diversity Coordinator is the University of Maryland. It serves multiple purposes. Firstly, many American students are interested in knowing more about their heritage. Many students take Jewish Studies as an ethnic study area---or they study more about their religion, which they may have begun to learn about when they were 11-13. Usually, they stop after that, except in exceptionally religious families.

There is some research done at the University - but faculty and others use Inter-Library Loan a great deal and of course because of the proximity of Washington D.C., they often go to libraries like the two I have just talked about. The University of Maryland, like many other American universities, has various ethnic studies classes. So, in a way, you could say that the collection is similar to that of many other secular universities in the U.S.A.

Often, a prominent Jewish family (in Maryland's case, the Meyerhoffs ) give their collection or a sum of money to significantly augment the books that the libraries can buy. Also, a faculty member often comes from the area, or gets to know other possible sources of books. Our past Library Director mentioned at a "State of the Libraries" gathering that she wished more faculty were like Dr. Bernard Cooperman. He, she said, "is an example of the support she wished other faculty would adopt. Cooperman asserts that, "you cannot have scholarship where there are no books." The collection serves the research function, but, it is, at this point not very strong in books that are not in English.

Often, books are donated that are in Yiddish, Hebrew, or German, often out-of-print books. Several gifts of books in Yiddish, including the collection of the parents of a computer science professor at our University whose father wrote for the "Jewish Forward." This paper was formerly only published in Yiddish and was an important means of communication for Jewish immigrants. In fact it was in this paper that many of Isaac Bashevis Singer's stories were first written. At any rate, when I was in New York, I went to see the collection and sensed that it was unique. I told our collection management librarians about it. We had not previously sought collections that belonged to the families of some of our faculty. Yes, of course, we tried to collect papers and materials of famous faculty, but not from the families of faculty members. This faculty member even created a Web Site to be a prototype for future donations of that nature.

Harriet Reiter, my predecessor at the University and an active member of the Association of Jewish Librarians, did a bibliography based on the collection at Maryland. It is a good starting point for Judaic research or for starting a Judaic collection. It is still sold by AJL in its third edition. She also did a bibliography on examples of Arab-Israeli cooperation at Haifa University. For people, at Maryland, whether faculty, staff or students, many of the books and journals can be found in our collections.

In the Maryland Room-which has a great many rare books, I found information about the Cone Sisters of Victorian Baltimore. One was an avid art collector and as such gave paintings to the Baltimore Art Museum. Her sister, on the other hand, was a doctor and was indeed, as they both were, pioneers in their individual way.

Our university libraries are open to anyone, both on campus and off. Our Judaic collection is there for nearby residents or visiting researchers as well. Only in the Maryland Room/Rare Books are there any restrictions. Any can buy a Borrower's card (if not a member of the university) and its open policy - as a land-grant college makes knowledge available to all. As Jefferson said, "To follow the truth wherever it may lead" underlies.


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